Friday, 1 December 2017

Mythic Underworlds/Hells for Other Races

If the dungeon as "mythic underworld", is somehow representative of human hell, could there be other mythic underworlds for other races, waiting to be explored? A hell for dwarves, a hell for elves, a hell for dragons, a hell for beholders, a hell for vampires, and so on?

Let's be serious about this now. Hell for beholders isn't just a world of fluffy bunny rabbits who are nice to each other, or an infinity of poking devices. Hell for elves isn't just an infinite army of woodcutters. Fantasy is about starting off with a crazy set of prior assumptions and acting as though they are real. What would a hell for elves really look like?

Hell for elves would, I think, be something like a gargantuan satanic-mills-style clockwork underground city - dark, artificial, regimented, industrial, hard-working. Like an ant's nest in the industrial revolution in which everything is run to the strictest of deadlines and in which everything is done for a purpose. Elves are William Morris on steroids, so their hell has to be Blake's Satanic London on amphetamines. 

Hell for dwarves would be an eternity of sky: a place where there are not only no ceilings or earth above your head but no floors either - nothing solid on which you can rest, let along put anything or dig. Somewhere in which everything floats, in which nothing is permanent, in which nothing lasts or remains fixed in place for any length of time.

Hell for vampires is easy: a sun-blasted desert or jungle where it is never night and everything is constantly exposed to the harsh white light of equatorial noon. 

Hell for goblins, who only understand theft and brutality, would be an extremely productive and healthy farmland, like Tuscany or Provence, in which everybody is forced by benevolent but strict overseers to participate in the creation of beautiful agricultural produce, wines, etc.

Hell for dragons makes me think of an old Eastern European proverb I heard once: A thief's hell is the fear of thieves. A place where no matter how much treasure you gather, another dragon always steals it when you're not looking. Maybe instead of caves there are only scrapes on exposed hillsides where everybody can see exactly what everyone else is doing and how much treasure they have. The "have nots" plot constantly to dispossess the "haves" and gang up on them to achieve this. Then the previous "haves" team up against the new ones. Eternally.

Hell for beholders needs to play on their main traits: vision and xenophobia. Beholders live underground normally, so their hell must be above ground, but in a land swathed in thick fog that restricts visibility to a few yards. In it, all beholders are forced to work together by psychic hive mothers who control their slaves in such a way that they are fully aware of their lost autonomy and of the fact that they will spend the rest of eternity associating with their most despised brethren.

Hell for orcs is a tough one. They're the antithesis of humans, so maybe orcs in the human world of towns, villages, farms, orchards and so on are in their version of hell already. 


  1. A hell for halflings might be a barren, thorny waste. Nothing to eat or drink, no comfort or warmth, soil too sandy or stony to dig in, and nothing green or growing.

  2. "The Bhils, a people of Central India, believe in hells for Tigers; the Malays tell of a city in the heart of the jungle with beams of human bones, walls of human skin, and eaves of human hair, built and inhabited by Tigers."

    I don't know what the hell of tigers might look like, but I imagine that city in the heart of the jungle is their heaven.

  3. A hell for Cthulhu is a world where everything is known and written plain and clear. There is no unknown thing or secret to be kept. A place without fears...

  4. A lot of good stuff, but if I may be so bold as to offer some further embellishments:

    For elves, maybe things don't happen on schedules so much as they happen without warning and faster than they can react. There is no rhythm and no rhyme. No passage of seasons into which they can settle their formerly immortal perspective. Everything is urgent and everything is on the brink of calamity and everything is their fault for not keeping up.

    I think the hell for dwarves is pretty compelling as you wrote it. (Dwarf hell sounds like the Elemental Plane of Air, actually.) I'd add that everything is cheaply and shoddily made and falls irreparably apart as soon as it's put to use. So maybe it's some corner of the Plane of Air where eddies of trash and detritus collect in a cyclone of swirling, contradictory air currents. And to make it worse everybody's bald.

    For vampires I would think there is also the sense of being *prey*. They would be hunted and brutalized, enslaved and enthralled by their hell's native entities. All the frailties of the human condition that they left behind would catch up and corner them like hounds with a fox. (The payout to "The Picture of Dorian Grey" comes to mind too.)

    Dragons would be left in frail, barely adequate bodies, cold, wingless, and toothless, dragging themselves like worms (not wyrms) on their fragile, starvation bloated underbellies and squabbling with their fellow inmates over scraps of offal. The old saying about "The lower the stakes the more vicious the battle." would apply here. There would be no treasure, just garbage and trash being coveted because there is *nothing* else and their instincts still tell them to hoard.

    Another idea for beholders would be an infinite hall of distorted mirrors, with no clear sense of perspective or direction, where none of the reflections can be seen as themselves. An eternal feedback loop of instantly reciprocated hostility where the more they attack the worse they suffer, because it's all reflecting back on them.

    The goblin and orc hells you suggest seem a bit much like just playing opposites. Fluffy bunnies traded for bloody axes.

    The myth of Tantalus seems like a possible route for the eternal punishment of goblins. They're simple creatures, so maybe they undergo the torments of the Scrat from the "Ice Age" movies, substituting a flawless gemstone for the acorn and an endless, brightly lit desert for the tundra. Or maybe the gem is just glued to the floor and they can't get it loose. Or it's built into a monkey trap on a sun scorched plateau with plenty of dark hidey holes visible within' a short run's range. And some of the holes have guards that will rush forth and beat them at random. So they're left in a constant state of the jig being up with the prize never being fully in their grasp.

    For orcs, yeah. Hard to figure. My best guess would be that they'd have to live out their exact same lives again, only they'd be goblins this time around. Particularly frail and feeble goblins, whose foes merely laugh at their ineffectual attacks and knock them on their butts with a shove to the forehead.

    Hell for kobolds would be an endless maze of brightly lit tunnels that they are constantly being driven through into the worst traps that they designed in life. Or maybe there's just nothing but scattered rakes on the floor.

    Sorry if this rambles, but it's a fun conceptual football to kick around.

    1. I like the vampire, dragon and beholder ones a lot.

  5. An adventure passing through some of these would be epic.

  6. "When Hell is full, orcs will walk the earth ..."

    I know I harp on a lot about Glorantha in these comments, but it has an interesting take on Hell as a place of darkness and comfort for the trolls (the Men of Darkness), who were driven to the surface when Yelm the Sun God was killed and thus brought blazing light to the underworld.

    The introductory adventure with Heroquest Glorantha has a section where the adventurers skirt a huge pit in Hell filled with legions of trolls and darkness demons - assembled for some dark and unknown purpose. I thought that was marvellous.

    1. You can go to town on ideas like that if you're an artist.

  7. I'd say orcs are already in hell - they take such savage glee in cruelty and the infliction of violence because existence is suffering

  8. Hell for vampires is, of course, staffed and guarded by bloodless, mindless skeletons - without blood to suck or minds to cloud. (Possibly by Harryhausen, possibly with skeletal camels for variety's sake).

    This might overlap with the dryad or ent hell - but perhaps that would be a vast hothouse, full of confining pots and planters, harsh sun, enclosed, airless spaces; roots in dry sand or gravel, not earth. All capable of sustaining or growing plants - but not a happy place for them.

    Offering for orc hell: if orcs are (after Tolkien) born into and/or made fit an/or representative of for industrial war, their hell is not peace and plenty; it is rather a Valhalla out of 19th Century retelling and depictions of Norse myth; lots of pastel colours and spiralling ornamentation. Odd looking, perhaps even prissy to an audience used to the carefully fashionable savageries of, for instance, the television show 'Vikings'.

    [This sort of thing:,]

    So: in this colourful existence, folk - orcs - fight. They struggle manfully (orcfully?) in honourable single combat. One falls in battle, but springs up again good as new - not even a scar. They all go and drink mead and feast together. No dominion, no spoils, no captives - perhaps even no blood, just brotherhood.

  9. If elves are (quasi) immortal, wouldn't any kind of afterlife be a kind of hell to them? The very worst worst thing they could imagine being is simply not alive, not in touch with the material plane. Maybe after they die they stay alive in a lightless grave forever. I will add that's probably not very adventurable.

  10. I love the process and creative energy of teasing out these little details, but isn't this taking it a bit to the extreme?

    Take goblins. Even if we assume that they are, by definition, an "evil" race ~ and I contest the idea on the grounds that good and evil are subjective concepts ~ also because alignment is stupid ~ even if we know that every goblin is born into a psychological and physiological state that severely limits their ability to ever be "good," shouldn't their version of hell be a little more nuanced than we're suggesting?

    Honestly, I'd like to offer an example of something more, to my mind, but I'm struggling. Seems to me that concepts of heaven and hell are better left for development after we've defined a race's culture and religion.